Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

BOSTON -- When you think about the Boston Celtics this season, Kyrie Irving’s ability to deliver in the clutch comes to mind.

But in his absence the last three games, we have seen others emerge as go-to performers down the stretch of close games.

It doesn’t get much closer than Sunday’s 97-96 buzzer-beating win over Portland, a game that ended with Al Horford knocking down a 20-foot, fade-away jumper as time expired.

The game-winning basket was just part of Horford’s strong play down the stretch, with him scoring or assisting on four of Boston’s seven made baskets in the final five minutes of play.

And of those seven made baskets, they were scored by five different players, which speaks to how diverse the Celtics can be with the game on the line and no Irving around to carry them. 

 “At the end of the day, we got some of the clutchest players in the game,” said Jaylen Brown, whose 3-pointer with 1:13 to play gave Boston its biggest lead (93-88) of the game. “Of course Kyrie and [Jayson Tatum], and I put myself in that category too. We always give ourselves a chance to win.”
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 97-96 thriller against Portland, which extended Boston’s winning streak to four.


Because he does so many of the little things that lead to winning, it’s easy to forget that Horford can score against most NBA bigs. With Irving out and his replacement, Terry Rozier, struggling to make shots, Horford put the team on is back for longer stretches than usual on Sunday. And the end result was a team-leading 13th double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, which included the game-winning basket as time expired. 


The Celtics went through a stretch where the third quarter was a time in which they struggled. But lately, it has been the jump-off for their second half success. Against the Blazers, Boston outscored Portland 31-19 in the quarter to nearly wipe out a 16-point halftime deficit. It was the third straight game Boston has outscored its opponent by double digits in the quarter, with the average margin during that span being 14.7 points per game.



Proving that their time to contribute may be sooner than later, the Celtics’ guys at the end of the bench really stepped up to make big plays against Portland. Abdel Nader, former D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the Year, had seven points and five rebounds off the bench while doing a decent job defensively. And Guerschon Yabusele played just under eight minutes but still managed to score four points. Their ability to stay ready when opportunity comes calling, and deliver in the moment, bodes well for both their chances of playing down the road and the Celtics’ confidence that if needed they can produce. 



Sunday’s victory was just the latest installment of how the West has been won by the Boston Celtics. Beating the Blazers improved Boston’s record to 15-5 against Western Conference teams. With 10 more games against foes from the West this season, there’s a high probability that this will be Boston’s best season under Brad Stevens record-wise, playing teams outside of the Eastern Conference. During the 2015-16 season, the Celtics had a record of 17-13 against Western Conference foes.


For the Celtics, it was a tale of two halves in terms of rebounding. Boston trailed by 16 points at the half, in part because the Blazers enjoyed a 28-19 rebounding edge, which was a factor in Portland’s ability to control the action. That all changed in the second half. Boston became more aggressive, more consistently. And the end result was a 32-18 rebounding advantage which certainly aided Boston’s 51.2 percent shooting in the second half while the Blazers connected on just 32.6 percent (15-for-46) of their shots in the second half.



Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

LOS ANGELES -- Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were on different teams for the NBA's All-Star game pitting Team LeBron vs Team Steph, so somebody was coming back a loser.

But considering how competitive the game was for longer stretches than usual, both players came away feeling good in a relatively close All-Star game that ended with Team LeBron edging Team Steph, 148-145.

LeBron James led all scorers with 29 points along with 10 rebounds and 8 assists and walked away with Game MVP honors for the third time.

Irving, who played for Team LeBron, had a near double-double with 13 points and nine assists along with seven rebounds.

And Horford, who came off the bench for Team Steph, had six points and five rebounds along with two assists.  

“This was pretty fun,” Irving said. “I think that we showcased that tonight with an incredible competitive spirit. The game was kind of getting away, but I think a few of us took it a little personal that we wanted to keep the game still competitive and at a high level. Fans and everyone across so many different countries want to see the best players in the world showcase their talent.”

Horford echoed similar sentiments about the game, which had a different format this year. LeBron James and Stephen Curry picked the two teams from the 22-player pool of players from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

“Early, guys were making [defensive] plays,” Horford said. “Guys were making a point, they weren’t going to let it be a dunk fest.

Horford added, “Even last year and the year before, there was a lot of heat on how bad the game was. I felt like this game was, it was good.”

Irving, a five-time All-Star, also acknowledged how he and some of the players wanted to change the perception of the All-Star Game as being nothing more than a glorified lay-up line.

“I think we all took it kind of personal,” Irving said. “Individually we wanted to come out and be competitive. Last year it was (192-182), that’s just not as fun as communicating with guys that you don’t necessarily play with every single day, bouncing ideas off in the time-outs. It’s just that competitive fire that we all share.”

And then there’s the payday for winning.

Not only will various charities benefit from the game -- LeBron James’ charity of choice gets $350,000 because his team won and Steph Curry’s charity of choice gets $150,000 -- but the players on the winning team get a pretty nice check as well.

The winning team members each get $100,000 while the players on the losing team come away with $25,000.

“There was something that, something that we could look forward to if we got the win,” Irving acknowledged. “You know, they’ll probably bring up the cash prize, but . . . $100,000 to $25,000, I think everybody in this room would be doing the same things we were doing.”


LeBron James savors first opportunity to build NBA roster

USA TODAY Sports Photo

LeBron James savors first opportunity to build NBA roster

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James had been mum on the process he used in selecting Team LeBron … until now.

Following Team LeBron’s 148-145 win over Team Steph, James revealed how he went about assembling is roster which included Boston’s Kyrie Irving who asked for a trade out of Cleveland last summer.

“I took Kevin (Durant) first, then I took (New Orleans) Anthony Davis, and I followed that with Kyrie and DeMarcus (Cousins).”

While this year’s all-star game had been billed as the ultimate pick-up game, it was clear that James put a tremendous amount of thought into assembling his team akin to what an NBA General Manager might do.

“I know who I like watching and I had a draft board,” James said. “I had a process. Some of it went to … it almost went according to plan. A couple of them fell through, but I was satisfied and happy with all the guys that I got.”

A reporter later asked James where was this draft board.

“Ain’t none of your business,” said James, grinning. “You’re going too far, man.”